Troubled Teen Triggers

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, parenting, struggling teens, teen counseling, teen therapy, troubled teens

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Do your parents know everything that happened every minute of your childhood? Probably not. Neither do you know everything that has happened in your teenager’s life.

Events in our childhood can impact the way we relate and act in our teenage years and sometimes for the rest of our lives. Past happenings may lead us to feel that we are inadaquete and we react by learning to be suave, to use humor to fit in, to be shy, or to avoid people or situations.

Think back on your own life. Are there early events that caused you to think and behave the way you do? I’m sure if you think about it for a day or two, you’ll remember hurtful things you haven’t thought about for years, yet they impact your everyday life and relationships today.

Bad behavior in the teenage years can be triggered by something as simple as a comment made by someone many years prior. The teen may not even remember what was said, just the feeling it created. Or, it could be rooted in the consistent lack of affirmation, or a traumatic event in your child’s life, like a split in your home, sexual abuse, emotional abuse by a parent, or a major loss in the teen’s life.

We develop our behavior over a period of time and we can be sidetracked by damaging words said like, “You’re stupid,” which can set into motion a style of relating that means, “I’m not going to appear to be stupid.” I’m going to appear to be smart (or I’m always right, no matter what the truth is).

When piercing words are said. It hurts us to the core. And we react or cover it up by our behavior. We don’t want others to see the shame we feel, or see that we don’t have it all together. So we struggle in an endless cycle.

For kids, hurtful words in the sixth and seventh grade can be especially cruel. The verbal attacks will come. Accusations will happen and things will be told. Words will rip a child apart. It is fertile ground for lifelong affects. And today, the verbal attacks have shifted to even more ruthless cyber attacks online like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter leading some recipients to the brink of suicide.

We simplistically teach our kids to defend themselves with comebacks like, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Or, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, what you say bounces off of me, and sticks on you.” And a teenager may say,”I don’t care what you think.” But the truth is, none of these are true. Kids are profoundly impacted by what their peers and adults in their life say or think.

Gary Smalley says, “Unfortunately, negative words (or just the lack of affirming ones) can turn out the lights in a child’s life. Lights that may never be lit again.”

Teenagers act the way they do for a reason. Even so, an errant teenager, when challenged, may retort, “I don’t know why I’m the way I am.” Or, “I don’t know why I chose to do that.” And that may be true. They may not know. What comes out can be the reaction to a bruise made on their heart years earlier, by some person, event or circumstance. “Garbage in, garbage out,” is the old computer adage that aptly relates to the human condition as well.

So, if your teenager is exhibiting serious behavioral problems and relational conflicts with you or others, there may be something in the past that helped trigger it. I don’t say this to dismiss blame for the teen’s actions, or to give license to bad behavior, no matter what caused it. But I say this to help you better understand such behavior, if you see it happening over and over again, and to seek help if needed.

A trained therapist can help uncover the root causes and bring these issues to the surface with the teenager so they can be dealt with. When the teen begins to see where they’re hurt and their own frailties, it’s only then that they’ll be willing to start to change some things. After all, they usually don’t want to be controlled by things they have no control over. They want to be their own people.

Helping your teenager get a handle on these issues can help prevent a lifetime of bad behavior and relational struggles. If you’d like help finding a counselor near you, please call us at 903-668-2173 or visit our Parenting Today’s Teens website.

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Teen Spin Control

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, household rules, parenting, parenting communications, parenting older teens, struggling teens, teen communications, teen counseling, troubled teens

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Are you dealing with a struggling teen in your home? Are emotions running high and hope running low? I’d like to offer you some advice to help you find peace in the midst of this struggle.

There is nothing worse than living with a struggling teen who is spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process. It is difficult to know what to do and how to react when your teen daily reaches new lows in disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect, and chooses every wrong thing.

Your teen is caught in “The Spin Cycle,” and he or she needs you to intervene.  The downward spiral can have tremendous destructive potential with lifelong consequences, or even bring a young life to a quick end.

It is frightening to think about the damage he or she may be doing to his or her future.  But that’s just what we parents do…we worry about our child when we see the warning signs (grades dropping, hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug use, depression, defiance, sexual promiscuity).  The unknown is always scary, but we cannot watch over our teenager every minute.  We also personalize our teen’s struggles as a direct reflection of who we are as people and how good we have been as parents.  This personalization often causes more pain and anger within us than the current situation should cause.

When teens spin out of control, they need a responsible adult to respond, not react.  In responding to a spiraling teen, you offer calmness, honesty, love, grace and support.  If you are instead reacting, you are emotional, angry, hurt, quick to judge, and often harsh.  These knee jerk, seemingly instinctive interactions are almost always counterproductive.

Reacting to your teen’s misbehavior or lack of respect is probably never going to give you the response you intended or wanted.  Responding correctly in the midst of chaos is difficult, but parents of teens must learn to stop their mouths, think about what is to be said or done, and only then speak or act – Stop, Think, Go.

Most people in times of crisis are in Go, Stop, Think mode, which will only bring more pain and chaos.

So, Where Do You Begin?

You can start with a simple truth and consequences message, “Honey, we’re not going to live like this anymore.” or, “I will no longer stand by and watch you destroy yourself. We’re going to address what’s going on, get some help, and get through this together.”  Make the message clear, “The negative behavior we’re seeing will no longer be allowed or tolerated in our home.”

Don’t expect your teen to like the new rules, nor the related consequences.  And they probably won’t appreciate your attempts to deal with their bad behavior.  Their first response will most likely be anger or resentment.  Be prepared for their behavior to get worse – more screaming, more name calling, etc.  They are upping the ante; forcing you to back down.  They want to see if you are really serious about these new rules.

The time your child may spend hating you is short, and compared to the entirety of a life, it’s just a blip on their radar.  Secretly, he or she may feel relieved and thankful you cared enough to intervene, giving them a good excuse to say “No” to their peers when asked to participate in the wrong things.

Usually, a teen figures out that life will be much easier if they change their behavior so they can work things out with their parents, but not always right away.  And sometimes they simply don’t figure this out at all, or this behavior is too entrenched to handle it all on your own.  You may need the help of a counselor, or may even need to place your teen in a program like Heartlight for a time.

Then What?

Once you start down the path of responsible parenting, don’t stop, and don’t be pulled down to their level with childish fighting.  Stay calm and focused on what you want for them and deal with the heart of the issue.  There will be days when you mess up and yell back.  After you calm down again, go to your teen and apologize for yelling.  Don’t turn it into a lecture or blame her for you losing your cool.

There’s never a good time in our busy lives to be faced with a crisis like dealing with a teenager caught in the spin cycle.  It can be very difficult, but keep in mind that more parents of teens are going through the same thing with their own teenager.  Seek them out and find a place where you can share your feelings and gain strength and support from each other.

Most parents describe the struggle with a troubled teenager as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg,” and for many it can either be a time of the family banding together, or it can tear them apart.  With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationship strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.  You’ll have those “valley” days.  Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes.

Do not stop to build monuments to your grief, anger, or fear.  One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt.  It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.  Celebrate the good days.  They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay.  Let them prop you up.  Enjoy each victory.  Laugh with your teen.  Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

Do not worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which
is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.

-Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Be sure to give the reins to God, and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life.  And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you, and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, as God loves us.

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Ten Ways to Rebuild a Relationship With a Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, parenting, parenting communications, teen communications, troubled teens

Teen Ways to Rebuild Relationship with your Teen-@MarkGregston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships thrive in settings where everyone agrees that nobody is perfect.

Unconditional love is fundamental for building healthy relationships with teenage children who will test their parents and their rules in every possible way. When they do, a busy, stressed-out parent can often react in ways that don’t always convey unconditional love.

If that sounds like you, maybe you need to work on mending your relationship before it is destroyed altogether.  Consider implementing some of these bridge-builders:

10 Ways to Rebuild Your Relationship

1.  By spending weekly time together, one on one…

Of all the advice I swear by, this is one you cannot ignore; Take your child out for breakfast, out for coffee, or do a lunch — and make it a habit every week.  Even if they resist, you must insist.  It tells your child, “You are worth spending time with, even when you are at your worst.”   Make it a one on one time together and come prepared with a topic to discuss that will be of interest to your teen.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  But it should be consistent.

2.  By sharing challenging experiences…

Parents need to spend more time, not less, having fun with their child when he or she reaches adolescence.  Unfortunately, many organized school and church activities can tend to get in the way of that.  I recommend you find a challenge you both appreciate and pursue it together with excitement.  Dedicate some resources, time, effort, interest and vigor to developing your interest together.

3.  By looking for opportunities for discussion…

Ask the right kind of questions.  The kind of questions that make them think about things, not just a “yes” or “no” questions.  Find out what they think, how they would do something, where they would go, and why they think a certain way.  Take advantage of reinforcing those moments when a discussion leads to surprising expressions of wisdom from your teen.  Talk about controversial subjects as you would a friend or co-worker for whom you have extreme respect.  Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen?

4.  By listening more and answering less…

If you want your teen to grasp what you are thinking, then stop telling him what you are thinking until your are asked for your opinion.  Zip your lip – just be quiet.  Stop lecturing, start listening.  Your teen won’t be ready to really listen until he becomes the initiator of a discussion, so just hush and get out of the way of him taking the lead.

5.  By developing a sense of humor…

Some of us are sour, bitter and stressed all of the time.  Lighten up!  When was the last time you really laughed?  Try having a joke night – where everyone has to come to dinner with a joke to share.  Even if it’s corny, everyone laughs!

6, By playing together….

Play paintball, go ride horses, go fishing or hunting, go camping and gaze at the stars, or pull a stunt together.  Get them up at midnight to watch a meteor shower.  Live it up and enjoy life with your kids in some way.  If you don’t like what they like they like to do, then just be there to watch or help them in some way. The key is the two of you being together.

7.  By remembering your child’s past and believing in your child’s future…

Carry a photo of your child as a youngster with you at all times! Post their baby photo on your refrigerator.  This way you won’t forget who this child was when they turn into an alien in their teens.  Keep in mind the joy of bringing them home at birth.  Remember, the thumbprint of God is still on their life.  Don’t dwell solely on their current struggles and difficulties.  Thank God for the work He is doing and will do in your child’s life.

8.  By establishing boundaries…

Let them know where they can and can’t “go” in your relationship.  Tell them what you expect, before something challenges those expectations.  Clearly establish your belief system and household rules. Being too lax as a parent and trying to act more as their friend and peer will hurt, not help, your relationship.

9.  By selfless confrontation…

Remember, discipline is about your teen, not you.  It is discipleship for their own good, not to make you feel better for all the stress they’ve caused.  Seek the right things in your child’s life for the right reasons.  Confront with calmness, correct with firmness, and with a love that has their best interests at heart.  Confront their mistakes with matter-of-fact and consequences, unwavering and without emotion or anger. In this way, it will become clear to them through the consequences that they are causing their own grief, not you.  If you are unsure, ask your spouse if you confronting your teen in an appropriate way.

10. By correcting and disciplining them, even when it makes you uncomfortable…

Your child needs to know you love them enough to correct and discipline them when they behave in ways that offend others or break your household rules or the rules of society.  Find healthy ways to discipline through loss of certain freedoms and privileges for a time.  Never resort to physical discipline with a teenager and be sure to approach all discipline on a united front with your spouse.  And be sure to reward a teen for good behavior by adding more freedoms and privileges.  That’s more important to them than anything else at this age.

And one more — Bonus!

You can rebuild your relationship by acting on your faith and your beliefs.  Don’t just say it, put your beliefs into action.  Serve others, love others, forgive others, pray, worship.  Exercise your faith in front of your teenager. 

Which of these will you implement into your relationship with your child this week?  I recommend starting with number one. And even if you get nothing but grief from your teen at first, keep up your weekly time together, week after week.  Eventually they’ll come around.

Remember, relationships thrive when unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn’t respond or goes on making mistakes.

Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love:
therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.  Jeremiah 31:3 

 

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Connecting With Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in encouragement, maturity, parenting communications, parenting style, teen communications

When was the last time your teenage son or daughter asked your opinion? Does your child listen to you and discuss life’s significant issues and difficulties? In other words, do you have meaningful, two-way dialogues, or does most of your communication tend to be one way?

I’ve found that the best way to build better communication with your teen is to find an activity you can participate in together and do so with all your might. Then, talk less yourself, so you don’t get in the way of what they may have to say.

Conversation naturally comes out of having fun together.  This is especially true for boys, who seem to process life while they are involved in an activity of some sort.  Talking less during these activity times may be difficult for you, but when it comes to getting teenagers to open up, you can’t shut up too much.

Our Heartlight counselors sometimes shoot pool, go for a walk, or play video games, grab a cup of coffee, or just “do” something with kids during their counseling sessions, and that is when the kids really open up. The application for your home is plain enough. If hunting is your child’s interest, go hunting. If riding horses is considered fun, then go horseback riding together. You may not learn how to skateboard, but you can build a ramp and run the video camera while your child does his thing.

The point is, if you participate in some activity with your teen that he or she really enjoys, you’ll find more opportunities to communicate while you are doing it together.

By the way, be sure to prevent distractions during your activity time. Don’t bring other friends or siblings along.  Promise that you’ll turn off your phone if they do the same. And by all means, don’t announce the activity is for the purpose of having a talk. Just leave the space open and available while you are with them, to see what happens next. Then zip your lip, be quiet, and practice listening.

Your silence allows your child to fill the conversational void. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but that’s the point.  In their discomfort, they’ll do the talking and say things they may not have said otherwise.  So, if you quit talking, you will begin to gain some ground in connecting your child’s thinking.

Your teen may never have a long discussion with you; it may always be the instant message version. But listen carefully, because what is said will probably be short and you’ll have to do some reading between the lines and asking a few quick questions to clarify what they meant.  This signifies that you are really listening and wanting to understand them.

What you say or how much you say is not even really that important. The important thing is to build an atmosphere where your child feels safe to share their thoughts and feelings.

The times a teenager will really listen to you are few and far between. But they’ll listen you more if you take time to listen to them.

Building good communication with your teen can start by participating in an activity your teen enjoys doing, and then using that time as an opportunity for you to listen, not talk.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

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Peace in Parenting At-Risk Teens

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, family conflict, parenting style, teen conflict, troubled teens

When your teen is spinning out of control it is frightening to think about the damage he may be doing to his future. But that’s just what we parents do…we worry about our child when we see the warning signs (grades dropping, hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug use, depression, defiance, sexual promiscuity). The unknown is always scary, but we cannot watch over our teenager every minute.

Are you dealing with a struggling teen in your home? Are emotions running high and hope running low? I’d like to offer you some advice to help you find peace in the midst of this struggle…

We can learn much from the philosophy of a man struggling with terminal cancer. Talk about a hopeless situation! He said, “I try not to stand too long on the mountain, and I don’t sit too long in the valley. I live one day at a time, and try to keep my attitude somewhere near the middle.”

He continued, “I really enjoy the mountaintop days, when the cancer or the chemotherapy don’t bother me too much. On bad days God gives me peace, and I learn dependence on Him I probably wouldn’t learn any other way. The days in between, I pray for strength, and my hope in Him keeps me going.”

Life can be nearly as traumatic for parents watching helplessly as their child spins out of control. There are good days and there are terrible days. They try this and they try that, and each time they think they’ve got it figured it out, their teen throws a curve ball and they sink to a new low.

I’ve found that those who are successful seek God’s peace in both the highs and the lows of life, as well as the muddle in the middle. They survive by keeping their faith strong and they spend more time on their knees. They let each day bring what it will, realizing that tomorrow may or may not look anything like today and that in most cases their teenager will eventually come around.

Do not worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more
wonderful than the human mind can understand.
–Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Most parents describe the struggle with a teenager as a “roller-coaster” or a “powder keg” and for many it can either be a time of the family banding together, or it can tear them apart. With what is at stake, the most important thing you can do for your teenager is to keep your relationships strong and prevent the struggle from becoming the focus of your life.

You’ll have those “valley” days. Walk through the valley, and keep on walking, for as long as it takes. Do not stop to build monuments to your grief, anger, or fear. One thing that can help at the low times is to pull out old pictures and videos to remember the good old days when your teen didn’t treat you like dirt. It will give you better perspective and strength to keep fighting for what’s right for your teenager even though it may be a totally one-sided and unappreciated fight for his future.

And, celebrate the good days. They’ll likely be few and far between for a time, but that’s okay. Let them prop you up. Enjoy each victory. Laugh with your teen. Reflect on the good, and hope for a future filled with more days like it.

I’ve said a million times that consequences are the best tool a parent can use to teach maturity? I mention it because God, your heavenly parent, may be using this situation with your teenager to also teach you a thing or two. If so, take heed. Take a close look at your life to see if there is anything that needs changing. Most parents I deal with in our Heartlight residential program say that they, too, had to change before any real progress could be made with their teen.

The bottom line is that parents can do no good for their teenager if they are caught up in despair and are constantly on edge. Learn early from others who have gotten to the other side of this struggle and actually survived! Give the reins to God and He will give you peace, strength, and the right perspective to deal with your teenager. Look at what may need changing in your own life. And finally, no matter how they’ve hurt you and no matter what they’ve done, love your teen unconditionally, even as God also loves us.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

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